Jonathan Stewart loves coming home to the comfortable weather that Washington provides in the offseason. But the Carolina Panthers running back, along with a crop of teammates, comes home to do seemingly everything but relax.
Stewart, who attended Timberline High School and the University of Oregon, brought 14 NFL companions to wash the feet and provide shoes to roughly 400 people in need at the Shoes of Hope on Thursday in Olympia — his fifth consecutive year of sponsoring and participating in the event.
No feet were left bare, as Stewart and the dozens who volunteered washed feet and provided shoes until just before sundown.
For Stewart, giving back to the community he grew up in is an offseason priority.
“Giving back to these people and not just saying words, or paying off a check, but actually being here and being hands-on with someone is not only going to touch their lives, but it’s going to touch the person’s life who’s doing it,” Stewart said. “A month from now, if things are going tough for them, they can look at these shoes and have hope.”
The event was put on by locally based City Gates Ministries and Samaritan’s Feet, a nonprofit from North Carolina. Hundreds of people lined the corner of Adams Street and State Avenue as rows of volunteers washed feet as a faith-based “act of humility.”
The main goal: no bare feet.
Among the players with Stewart was former University of Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson. The two are teammates in Carolina.
Though the players keep busy, Stewart said getting teammates to join him is easy.
“The guys that are out here, it’s not a hard (sell) at all,” he said. “That’s what they want to do, that’s what they believe in.”
Stewart is facilitating his youth football camp at Thurston High School, which will conclude its seventh year Friday.
The 29-year-old Stewart received his first Pro Bowl selection this past season, his eighth, after amassing 989 yards and six touchdowns for the Super Bowl runner-up Panthers.
“It grows every single year. Every single year we get more participants to come and serve,” said Phil Campbell, Samaritan’s Feet regional director of operations.
The City Gates Ministries occupies the corner of Adams Street and State Avenue every Thursday, offering basic necessities to the community. Once a year, Samaritan’s Feet joins forces to provide the shoes, and wash feet.
“This is what it’s about,” said Stewart. “Giving back, and being a light.”